Voyage to vegetarianism

A research paper for class made one local teen decide to give up meat

A research paper for class made one local teen decide to give up meat

January 20, 2009|By TAYLOR ECKEL / Pulse Correspondent

Haley Eckel of Keedysville used to think nothing about downing multiple servings of homemade pot roast.

But that was before the 15-year-old began writing a research paper about the health benefits of being a vegetarian for a class at Hagerstown Community College.

"I know several people who are vegetarians because they believe, among other things, that it is healthier than a traditional diet," she said. "When I had to write a research paper on a topic on which I had little or no opinion, I chose vegetarianism."

Before writing, Haley thought she knew who vegatarians were. "I thought that the majority [of vegetarians] were vegetarian because they were animal-rights advocates," she said.


Before beginning her research, Haley said she supposed that a vegetarian diet was more healthful than a traditional diet. Using information from scholarly peer-reviewed articles, books and pamphlets, Haley said she was surprised to learn that eating animal foods can be detrimental to one's health.

"Because I have asthma and food allergies, my curiosity was piqued when I learned that meat is an inflammatory food and a meat-free diet can reduce allergic reactions and the effects of inflammatory diseases," she said.

Haley said according to an article in Topics in Clinical Nutrition, the acidity of meat causes calcium to be released from a person's bones, which weakens bones and can lead to osteoporosis. In addition, eliminating meat from one's diet can prevent diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, according to Dr. T. Collins Campbell's The China Study.

When Haley announced that as part of her research she was going vegetarian for a week, she received mixed reactions. Her parents were supportive, but concerned if whether she was going to meet her nutritional needs. Haley said one friend asked, "Why are you doing that?" and her siblings made fun of her choice.

Initially, Haley said, she had a hard time making sure that she was eating balanced meals, but adjusted quickly. Through her research, talking to other vegetarians, and reading vegetarian cookbooks, Haley learned how to maintain a healthful diet.

People unfamiliar with vegetarianism often wonder how vegetarians get enough protein and other nutrients. Haley explained that meat is a source of "complete" protein, and plants contain "incomplete" protein. However, Haley learned through her research that by purposely eating plant-based foods that contain complementary protein sources (such as beans and rice), a vegetarian can consume a complete protein while at the same time getting other nutrients that are not in meat. Calcium and iron consumption should not be a concern, because calorie-for-calorie, dark leafy green vegetables (such as kale, broccoli and spinach) contain more calcium than milk and more iron than beef. In addition, plant-foods contain fiber, and meat does not.

Since then, Haley said she has been avoiding meat. When asked if she misses eating meat, she decisively answered, "No. Not at all." Haley said she enjoys eating avocado wraps and bean salads paired with rice and experimenting with tofu recipes. When the rest of the family is eating a meat-based meal, Haley will often have side dishes or she'll improvise. "When we're having tacos, I'll have beans with the same spices that are in the meat." Haley said.

Her family has also cut back on their meat intake, and now they typically eat vegetarian four or five nights a week.

Haley has been "off" of meat for a month and a half. She said physically, she feels less "bogged down." She also said she's noticed she can eat a lot closer to working out without becoming sick.

Haley strongly recommends that students considering vegetarianism be well-informed, and warns that a plant-based diet is only healthy if properly carried out. Soda pop, potato chips and candy are unhealthful vegetarian foods.

She suggests looking at the local library for vegetarian cookbooks and educational books, as well as using reputable online publications.

Since researching vegetarianism and discussing the topic with vegetarians, Haley's attitude toward food has changed. "I no longer choose my food simply for enjoyment, but I now view eating as a way to maintain health and prevent disease," she said.

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